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'I'm Tired of Listening to Music That Just Exists': A Q&A with L.A. Producer Shlohmo

Shlohmo
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Shlohmo

Shlohmo only "f---s with" the shit he wants to: his homies, Bjork collaborator Arca's experimental mind-trips of tracks, and music that's 10 years old, to name a few. He sure as hell doesn't f--- with the following: suits, the pressure he puts on himself, and other people. For his second LP, Dark Red (due Apr. 7 via True Panther/WeDidIt), the Los Angeles producer (born Henry Laufer) and founder of underground collective WeDidIt -- including producers RL Grime, Salva, and Groundislava, to name a few -- he compromised even less of his musical needs and wants.

"I wanted this to be more of a statement piece than any of the last shit’s been, and I think it worked," he tells Billboard on a frigid day at the Beggars Group offices in Soho. "I wanted this one to be really f---ing loud and unsettling as f---. I didn’t want it to be that pleasant."

For listeners familiar with Shlohmo from his work with the singer Banks or his blushingly sultry collaborative EP with Jeremih, last year's No More (or perhaps its most notorious or at least appropriately named jam, his remix of Jermeih's "F--- You All the Time"), Dark Red is a departure even from Shlohmo's past albums, which were like placid floats down a sample-based river of alt-R&B. It's a brittle dive into a minimal void of eerie synth lines, skittering drums, and song names like "Meet Ur Maker" and "Buried." He's actually been working on it since 2013, before he linked up with the rapper. "Putting out a record, the process making it is whatever but it's the process of stopping making it that's the weird part, saying 'Okay, this is the final product now and there's nothing I can do about it,'" he says, admitting people might be confused about what number release it is for him after he's put out so many EPs and singles. 

Billboard got to know Shlohmo a little more and discovered that his understated melodies and rhythms belie a producer with a dark side, strong opinions, and a foul mouth who's incredibly loyal to his crew. 

Rick Rubin started Def Jam, which was originally going to put out [Jeremih and Shlohmo's EP No More],  in his dorm room. Would you ever want the similarly homegrown WeDidIt to reach that level?
I wouldn't, because that big sucks. I don’t ever want to work with people like that ever again; not necessarily artist-wise, but the business side of things is so shady. It's the fakest part of the whole f---ing thing. We want to grow to a point where we’re just beyond self-sustaining, but I never want to have to make decisions based on investments. With major label shit, it’s really convoluted -- people sending letters to each other talking about what to do instead of doing it. That’s what happened with the EP. We wound up putting it out for free on WeDidIt. Def Jam had nothing to do with it, they just didn’t sue us. They just wouldn’t release it for what reason? They were like, "We don't have the legal authorization." It's just a term, another way of saying, "I have no idea." Just dealing with having to be on a release schedule and with someone’s legal team and their finance advisors and shit is pretty f---ed.   

You've said you like intense, abrasive, angry music -- are you listening to anything new that you're excited about right now?
I don’t really like a lot of music, to be completely honest. Most of the music I’ve been listening to is from the past 10 years or older. I mostly listen to rap music. That's the most abrasive punk shit, Chief Keef and Young Thug. I don’t think any punk music is punk anymore. The punkest kids are 16-year-olds making millions of dollars talking about f---ing drugs. That’s punk as f---, taking all the white people’s money. A lot of electronic music is just kind of sitting or club tracks, which I love. It's great body music, and makes people dance, and I want to DJ it, but in terms of music that’s going to make you feel something like a f---ing movie would, I don’t think there’s much there. Arca is doing a lot of really weird shit that I f--- with. Pretty much everything is normalizing and homogenizing in a really awful way where everyone’s trying to be each other in a really cross-promotional Soundcloud generation way.  

What do you mean?
Everyone’s their own self-promotional device, and really unapologetic. You shouldn’t present your music as an advertisement to someone if they’ve never heard it before. There’s no quality or quantity, you’re just talking about it a lot. I don’t think 14-year-olds should be allowed to show their music to the world yet. There should be an age limit. I’m f---ing around. Anyone should be allowed to do whatever the f--- they want but there needs to be a kind of etiquette discussion. What am I trying to say is kids don’t realize that just because you can upload it doesn’t mean you should. Why do you want the world to hear this now? Think about that. Do you want to make music or do you just want to show it to people? Maybe kids are getting more comfortable with their lives being completely on display. They’ve had Facebook since they were 10. I’m tired of listening to music that just exists. It’s f---ing boring. Remixes are boring.

What's your most vivid memory of Dark Red's recording process?
I started living back in L.A. and got a new apartment and finally had a room to record in that wasn’t my bedroom, so that was really interesting. My dad’s old Jupiter 6 synthesizer was so f---ing massive and dusty, and I never cleaned it because I liked it. I think of that, and how the volume nob crackles when you turn it so you had to keep it in one place. My dad [singer/songwriter, producer, and engineer Rob Laufer] had a studio at our house, but I never f---ed with it growing up because it was his thing. He’s like baby boomer shit: classic Neil YoungBeatles, Bob Dylan. My dad’s two closest friends, who are like uncles to me, played in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, so my parents were friends with Don [Val Vliet]. I never got to meet him because he was an agoraphobe for the last part of his life. He was scared of planes and didn’t leave the city. My dad would always be like, "You need to listen to the 'Batchain Polar' and 'Trout Mask Replica.' He’d try to make this one sound like windshield wipers." I was like "Whoa." 

Your album sounds very cinematic and as an artist you have a fairly consistent visual aesthetic -- were there any films that informed what you were trying to do with Red?
I definitely see shit in my head but it’s not necessarily a narrative. They’re just f---ing images. This one just feels so... ice river snowstorm, like a f---ing Nordic wizard parting the f---ing ice while his grey beard blows behind him in the blizzard. That’s what this one feels like to me. Movies and shit? I guess I was watching The Sopranos for the first time while I was making this, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it. A lot of the weird cinematic shit just came from me. That’s just how I think about music and what content I wanted to make. I wanted it to tell a story without telling a story. I was always trying to figure out what the type of movie I like is called. There’s only one theme that I really f--- with and i can’t explain it,w as always trying to figure it out. Then I was like, I love tragedies. I love when shit’s f---ed in the end. Just because it’s not good in the end, just ‘cause. It's not a Steven Spielberg movie most of the time.